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HD DVD to debut in US in March

Toshiba produces players; studios, content

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CES US consumers will be able to buy HD DVD content and hardware at the end of Q1, companies backing the next-generation optical disc format announced yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas.

That's perhaps a little later than Toshiba, one of the format's strongest supporters, hinted when the launch window was put back from Q4 2005, but should keep the format 's debut ahead of that of its arch-rival, the Sony-supported Blu-ray Disc.

Toshiba yesterday launched a pair of HD DVD players, the high-end, $800 HD-XA1 and the "low-end" HD-A1, which will still set punters back $500. No one said being an early adopter was going to be cheap.

Both will ship to retailers in March 2006, Toshiba said, pointing out that Amazon.com is already taking orders for the products. It also highlighted retail deals with Best Buy and Sears.

Toshiba said the two players will handle existing DVD and CD media, though a footnote on the company's official statement confesses that "some discs may not be compatible".

Toshiba also demo'd a Qosmio notebook fitted with a slimline HD DVD drive, but at this stage won't say when the product will ship, promising instead further information later in the quarter.

For movie content, early adopters can look to the likes of Warner, Paramount, Universal and now both the Weinstein Company and France's Studio Canal. The latter said last night it will offer 30 films on HD DVD during 2006. Warner listed 24 titles it will put out this year; both it an Paramount said they will offer new new, as yet unreleased movies on HD DVD throughout the year, including Mission Impossible 3, Superman Returns and Poseidon.

Interestingly, Warner will offer the U2 (if you will) 'rockumentary' Rattle and Hum on HD DVD, though at the launch it discreetly failed to mention it will also ship a Blu-ray Disc version, spotted by this reporter on Sony's BD stand.

Some 150-odd titles are expected to be available on HD DVD come the Q4 holiday buying season, the format's supporters said - rising to "nearly 200", if you talk to HD DVD's more ebullient adherents. ®

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